May 17, 2012 1:00 AM
TUCSON -- It's graduation time. Thousands of high school seniors are eager to hear the last bell and most of them will be donning cap and gown in the next couple weeks.
But Arizona ranks number one in the country for high school dropouts. Many of them are not troublemakers. Many of those kids are simply homeless.
"We just had our differences and she just kicked me out," says Jacque, a high school senior.
Jacque is on track to graduate thanks to a Tucson organization: Youth on Their Own (YOTO).
Carine Kosseke is also in the program. "It was hard in the beginning. I have to stay in the car overnight," says the senior from Catalina High School.
"My father passed away when I was five," says Manuel Lopez, a senior at Pueblo High School.
By definition, with no fixed, adequate nighttime residence, all three of these students are considered homeless. It can happen for many reasons.
"Mother and father might have passed away," explains Tony Mosley, YOTO Program Director. "Or there might be violence going on in the home or there might be drug abuse or any of those types of things. We focus on those kids who, through no fault of their own, find themselves on their own."
Jacque's journey started when she was only five years-old.
"I was taken by the police from my father when we were living on the streets," she says.
Jacque was adopted out of foster care, but soon after she turned 18 she says they told her to leave. She was in her junior year at the time.
"From there I just bounced from friend's house to friend's house," she says.
Youth on Their Own provides a lot of help for these students. The goal is to help them graduate. Statistics show that if a homeless student does not graduate, they most likely will remain homeless, creating more strain on social services. Once in the program, the kids receive a monthly stipend --typically $125 -- provided the student keeps passing grades, good attendance and stays out of trouble.
YOTO also helps out with clothing, food and bus passes.
Manuel was renting his own apartment when he was 16.
"Inside me I didn't want to ask for food. So it was sometime like one meal a day. And that was from school."
YOTO helped Manuel with clothing and he spends his stipend on school expenses such as the fee for the National Honor Society. He has a 3.5 G.P.A.
And Carine is maintaining a 3.95 G.P.A. She lived in a car for 5 months with a friend until YOTO got them into an apartment.
"So I have a place to sleep and to do my homework."
All of these students agree YOTO helped make the impossible, possible.
"They gave me the confidence to finish high school and graduate," says Jacque.
Youth on Their Own has helped over 10,000 over the years, with better than 90 percent of them graduating. If you know of someone who needs this program or you want to help out, click here for more information about YOTO.